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Do men and women have different opinions on sexual harassment?

Category: Sexual Harassment

One issue we often discuss in this blog is how difficult it can be for victims of workplace sexual harassment to pursue a claim. One reason for this stems from the fact that often, these cases boil down to one person’s word against another’s. Rarely, if ever, do both sides see eye-to-eye.

To further complicate matters, everyone has different perceptions of sexual harassment. What one person sees as offensive or harassing could be considered to be little more than a joke to someone else. This difference in perception can muddy the waters in cases that are already quite complex, and some researchers suggest that this disparity in perception could be linked to gender.

In 2001, psychology researchers from universities in Minnesota and California released an analytic review on how men and women differ in regards to perceptions of sexual harassment. They note that while men and women generally agree in some instances of sexual harassment, there are some behaviors that prove to be more polarizing.

For example, men and women typically agree when it comes to overt or severe behaviors of sexual harassment, which often involves quid pro quo harassment. Researchers found that these extreme cases of harassment are, overall, recognized equally by both men and women.

However, when it comes to the more ambiguous cases, including hostile work environment harassment, there seems to be a more substantial disconnect between perceptions from men and perceptions from women. These differences varied based on the type of behaviors, but in general, the research found that women were more likely to view a broader range of behaviors as being harassing when compared to men.

What we might be able to take away from this research is that some people may have more difficulty identifying or qualifying certain behaviors as sexual harassment. However, this is not an excuse. Employees and employers, no matter what gender they are, have the right to work in a safe workplace free from threats, hostility and harassment. If and when these behaviors exist, victims have the right to put a stop to them by reporting the misconduct and taking legal action if appropriate.

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